More than two dozen buses have been torched so far this year in Honduras, a fiery display of the consequences when numerous gangs earn a significant portion of their revenue by extorting the public transportation sector.
Jorge Lanza, head of the National Council of Transportation in Honduras, says that at least 30 urban and intercity buses have been burned in 2016. He blamed the burnings on extortion rackets targeting the country's bus companies, reported El Heraldo.
"The attacks against transportation groups are a sign that insecurity in Honduras continues while the authorities remain indifferent," Lanza told El Heraldo.
The most recent bus torching occurred on August 23 in Comayagüela, which along with Tegucigalpa makes up Honduras' Central District. The bus driver and his assistant were reportedly admitted to a local hospital with first and second-degree burns.
InSight Crime Analysis
The high number of bus burnings is a symptom of the numerous criminal actors involved in extortion of Honduras' transportation sector. Extortion is either the most important or one of the most important sources of income for all of the country's gangs, including the MS13 and Barrio 18 but also smaller groups like the Chirizos. And the transportation industry is especially lucrative; following extensive field research in Honduras last year, InSight Crime estimated a single gang in Tegucigalpa can make up to $2.5 million each year by extorting public transport vehicles. (See InSight Crime graph below)
SEE ALSO: Special Report on Gangs in Honduras
In some instances, several gangs will be extorting a bus driver at the same time. This makes it hard for the drivers to earn a living, much less afford hefty extortion fees, which the gangs euphemistically call "war taxes." When the fees are not paid, retribution from the gangs is swift, and many bus drivers suffer a worse fate than having their vehicle torched. Sixty-three public transport workers were killed in just the first five months of 2016, according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras.
Honduras has improved its efforts to combat extortion. The country's anti-extortion force has arrested over 400 people so far this year, and authorities seized a large sum of assets belonging to the MS13 that they say were derived from extortion revenue. But the bus torchings, bus driver deaths and complaints about the government's "indifference" reveal the authorities have yet to rein in extortion of the public transportation sector.